Lame-Duck Bill Changes Highway Funding
Will avoid federal wage requirements; experts express concerns.
Legislation passed during the Legislature’s lame-duck session could change how Wisconsin pays for major highway projects. Transportation insiders say the tweaks are meant, by lawmakers, to be a way for the state to avoid federal wage requirements.
The first bill approved by lawmakers during this week’s extraordinary session makes changes to how the Wisconsin Department of Transportation funds highway megaprojects, like those in southeastern Wisconsin and other major state highway projects throughout the state, by requiring at least 70 percent of the project be funded with federal dollars.
Under current law, the DOT uses a combination of federal and state dollars, but for megaprojects and other major highway improvements there isn’t a set minimum for federal funds.
Former DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb said that change is significant because federal funds carry with them federal requirements that contractors be paid wages set by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Wisconsin had similar requirements under what were known as the prevailing wage laws, but those were repealed as part of the 2015-2017 state budget. At the time, some Republican Lawmakers argued the prevailing wage rules made road projects more expensive by forcing the DOT to pay wages that were higher than necessary.
“That’s a policy decision that the Legislature is free to make,” said Gottlieb. “The caution that I would have is that the people who are advocating for that are saying that it will save enormous amounts of money and that by in fact by getting rid of prevailing wage that could, in effect, solve the state’s transportation funding problem and that is not true.”
Gottlieb pointed to research compiled by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau that showed conflicting reports of savings by avoiding prevailing wage laws in other states. It also noted the state Department of Revenue estimated repealing the state’s prevailing wage laws in 2015 would have no fiscal impact on the state. The DOT reported at the time that savings at the state and local level would be indeterminate.
The Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, the state’s road building lobbying group, said it had concerns about lawmakers’ lame-duck session changes to how federal funds should be distributed in state highway projects.
WTBA Director of Policy and Finance Kevin Traas agreed with Gottlieb, saying the change appears to be aimed at limiting the amount of highway projects subject to federal prevailing wage laws.
But he said the move could cause delays for much needed highway repairs because federal funds are limited and the state would be unable to fund 70 percent of all major highway projects in the state with them.
“We just don’t think it’s possible.” Traas said. “And the requirement in the bill that DOT files an alternative funding plan with joint finance and waits for them to review it for two weeks is an inefficient way to deliver the highway program with our construction season that is limited because of the weather here in Wisconsin.”
The transportation measure and others passed in this weeks extraordinary session now head to Walker’s desk for his approval.
Listen to the WPR report here.
Changes To State Highway Funding Rules Passed During Lame-Duck Session was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.
More about the Lame Duck Laws
- Four Years Later, State’s Lame Duck Law Still Faces Court Challenge - Shawn Johnson - Jan 17th, 2023
- Judge Rules Against Law Giving Legislators Power Over Attorney General Settlements - Shawn Johnson - May 11th, 2022
- State Supreme Court Dismisses AG’s Lame-Duck Lawsuit - Ruth Conniff - Mar 25th, 2021
- Kaul Sues Legislature Over Lame Duck Laws - Melanie Conklin - Nov 24th, 2020
- AG Kaul Announces Legal Action to Allow DOJ to Again Enforce Wisconsin Laws Without Unconstitutional Legislative Interference - Josh Kaul - Nov 23rd, 2020
- Vos Thinks Lame-Duck Session Didn’t Go Far Enough - Melanie Conklin - Jul 31st, 2020
- The State of Politics: Court Rulings Against Evers Sow Confusion - Steven Walters - Jul 20th, 2020
- Court Tosses Dems’ Lame-Duck Suit - Laurel White - Jul 16th, 2020
- Op Ed: State High Court Nullifies 2018 Election - James Rowen - Jul 12th, 2020
- WI Supreme Court Upholds GOP Lame-Duck Laws - Laurel White - Jul 9th, 2020
Read more about Lame Duck Laws here
One thought on “Lame-Duck Bill Changes Highway Funding”
WILL doesn’t even mention this! Guess why? Union labor is a living wage. The poor can’t get to jobs because we spend all our money on road building for commuters to come into the city for work or those with cars to drive to the suburbs for their work. There is no money for mass transit. Not only does this keep “undesirables ” out of certain geographies it also destroys our environment faster. More cars: more green house gasses; more transit; less greenhouse gasses – but you might have to sit next to someone you don’t want to sit next to!!! Environment and justice and jobs are one issue. We need the “will”-power to act morally and justly. We may also be able to slow the collapse that we are creating with our rush to limit others so we get more for ourselves.